Why race isn’t a thing but racial identity is
How the concepts of race shape our world, our lives, and what to do to move past it
Not to fully repeat my previous post about race; but build on it as a deeper assessment. Race as we see it: differences in skin pigment, hair types and other aesthetic features, are result of genetic mutations and selective adaptations that can occur to any member of the human population (There is approximately 0.1% genetic difference between modern mankind). This is more about racial identity in the context of our society; I specify the context of society because, it is in our interaction, interwoven history, and social development that made race into a concept and formed the altering perspectives of various social groups we currently experience. This idea of difference has saturated society enough so, that we have developed this abstract and colloquialised idea of “racial” difference, an idea which our actions reinforced and our systems ingrained. Race was made a real thing when we started to attach ideas to it, making it a stronger concept, and developed it into a more rigid ideal. This ideal of separation and difference was quickly adapted by those who it benefited and used to subjugate those who it disadvantaged. There isn’t a start in history when we “suddenly became racists”, it’s the perception of difference that has propagated the concept through our history as a catalyst for the dehumanization and control of those that the dominate “race” or ethnic group were opposed to or attacked. When you separate your self from the enemy, it’s easier to hate them. The idea of race offers a simple differentiating aspect that doesn’t need to be explained through interaction, you can visibly notice skin colour. The fact is that this difference, skin colour, appeals most readily to our visual senses, making the concept empirically reinforced. This most likely allowed for people throughout our history to develop a narrative for superiority, without taking the time to directly communicate and understand others. Coupled with the fact that language develops organically in isolated communities, the differences in means of communication made the process of dehumanising easier, it allows the “other” to be perceived as of lesser intelligence. This educational divide has been exploited in various systems of oppression in history. The colonial North American slavery system was ingrained with an understanding that teaching slaves to read and write in English would allow them to effectively protest their enslavement, organize and challenge “Christian” religious indoctrination that they were taught to pacific their conditions. This example aside, what’s relevant is the effects of the concept of race has on modern society and this is entrenched in the systemic treatment of ethnic minorities in our legal, economic, education, media apparatus. Stigma, policy and low social regard is a continuation of the same system of insulating slavery, just turned into institutional and cultural practice and perpetuation of the disadvantages that limit social elevation of minorities.
When combined with the multiplying effects of ‘side culture’ and personal perspective, the struggle faced by non-dominate races are developed in to characterisations of their social positions/ perspectives. This perception of stereotypes and difference are as developed as the concept of race is, neither of which are true manifestations of human life. They are the result of culture and history, derived from an empirical fallacy and the need for social dominance. The sad thing is that in over approximately 50,000 years roaming the planet in our current genetic form, humans are still using the same concept of race for the exact same thing. Considering developments of scientific data on the human genome and social justice movements; the prevalence of race as an issue should be recognized as both an illusion to dispel and an opportunity to deepen the understanding of being human in our society outside of our own individual vantage point.
Race and the associated characterizations are reinforced at three levels:
Systemic — the entrenched perceptions of difference and the institutionalization of processes and actions that disproportionally and adversely targets/effects a segment of population which can be seen as a race or ethnic group.
Macro — the characterization and reinforcement of stereotypes in a salient form of communication/ cultural definition which limits the ability to accurately reflect the input of individuals and curates’ common social perceptions.
Micro- side culture and the day to day interactions in the population that input dynamics into the development of ‘the ideas of race’ (stereotypes etc.) into the perspectives of others .i.e. conversation, small/ narrow reach communication, informal situations
Now, I am not advocating for ignoring the construct of race, that would be both counter productive to social inequality and disrespectful to those who have fought for their social rights because of disadvantages cause by race. Rather, I believe the best ways is the process of increasing our understanding of the historic and systemic disadvantages of others. It’s the understanding of our social power and using it in situations to advocate and enhance the voices of oppressed people, without talking over there’s. this can be standing up for informal discrimination know that you yourself are part of the majority and are therefore treated with a difference, that you can notice; or standing and marching in solidarity to progressive social movements.
These are commonly perceived stances to changing the social narratives, but one of the most powerful things we can do is change our side culture subsequently, our outward perspectives of others. In side culture, we loosen our defences (side culture is most commonly conversations with friends and family) and have open exchanges. When this phenomenon of race started, it was the normalization and perpetuation of stereotypes and factual inaccuracies in side culture that has developed the perception of difference. Side culture is the most important step in erasing the concept of race from society. We learn some of our deepest beliefs from our family and friends, learning stereotypes and fallacies of racial differences can often ingrain prejudice and preconceived notions. These ideas aren’t often addressed until we meet and interact someone of another race, learn of contemporary racial inequalities, or are exposed to the historical treatment of ethnic groups. Some will argue that this isn’t enough and that the issue of race must be addressed at a larger scale, it most definitely should be, but it is the small-scale interactions which culminates to the large-scale disparity that we currently experience. If we take the time to have less derogatory conversations, we can make the concept of race a weaker idea. This doesn’t mean being a socially aware “prude”, it means taking the time to understand the difference between ignorance and satire, prejudice and stereotypes and bridging the divide through unbiased commentary. Opening the conversation to explain why the concept of race isn’t real or that the stereotype isn’t accurate you check the behaviour and limit the idea. If this doesn’t seem like an attractive thing because of the response that you’d receive, that’s the real problem, not explaining the issue. We must be rigorous in addressing racial inequality. Resistance to learning and a widening of perspective is a dangerous notion and the very same train of thought that developed race in to a predominate social construct in the first place. In the changing global social climate, racial relations are exacerbated through the need to find a social enemy for the lack of economic prospects and drudgery of systemic class oppression prevalent in developed and developing nations.
The first step we can take to stop this, is changing side culture to change the ideas of race floating around. Culture aims to capture side culture, you like content that relates to your perspective and it is the theme in which things are developed in and are shaped by. By changing side culture, it changes our attitudes towards the characterization of race, it creates a change in the content we find interesting and relevant, which will in turn change content being made. The social construct of race is a prevalent thing if we continue to build it, changing the conversation pulls the construct down. And maybe then we can all see we are the same kind of human.
*racial identity isn’t defined because it is the social construction of race and the subsequent historical disparities that creates an identity from this made up social concept. The struggle associated with race shapes identity, as unfortunate as it is, it is an arbitrary element of the human experience in our society.